Edited email correspondence interview with Himanshu Suri and Victor Vasquez from 2010.
Brendan: When was the last time you felt super uncomfortable?
Victor: We played a private party at some sort of Revenge of the Nerds style fraternity up in Cambridge at MIT and I was under the influence of a number of chemicals, “psychedelic” and otherwise. I couldn’t stop thinking about the huge amount of influence that the institution I was at had on the world. These are people who every year are recruited for the same banks who were largely responsible for the economic crash, people who every year are recruited to work in the labs of irresponsible pharmaceutical companies whose self-interested pursuit of profits and whose lobbying are a large part of why our healthcare system is so immensely inefficient, people who might end up designing new fighter drones or nuclear weapons for our military or private military corporations. At the same time, these were people who could find solutions to problems like the large scale implementations of alternative energies that could wean us off our dependency on oil/natural gas/coal energies that causes much of the violence and political/environmental/economic strife in the world, or cures for diseases, etc. And also they were just people who wanted to “get fucked up” and “have fun” but many of whom were also socially awkward in ways I rarely encounter in my day-to-day life.
I was having a hard time relating to them and was also having an internal existential crisis. Why did they want us to come up and perform these raps for them? What did they want from the music and what did they want from us? Who did they think we were? Who did I think I was? Typical “psychedelic” drug shit I guess. But yeah, between the “Little Eichmann”/White Devil vibes and the Friendly-Nerds-Who-Just-Want-to-Have-Fun vibes (both of which were also present to a slightly lesser degree at Wesleyan University where Hima and I went to college) and the whole Why-Do-People-Like-This? chaser along with the strong chemical cocktail really had me struggling to be a person among people.
It was hard to listen to anything other than my bugged out inner monologue. I kept vacillating between a sense of fairly unfounded inferiority to such a huge intimidating powerful institution and a sort of sense fairly unfounded superiority to a number of people, who for all their good traits, seemed so culturally different from me as to come across as ignorant. And as I was trying to negotiate that push-and-pull I would swing from amusement to awe to distrust and paranoia to despair back to amusement but I think it’s fair to say I was “super uncomfortable” for much of that time.
Hima: One time someone reached out to us to play a benefit for a friend of his that had a brain tumor. Yes. Of course. This is what, if anything, is a way we can use getting trashed on stage for white people for good. We decided a while ago we would play any benefit people wanted us to for free and try to make money when, if ever, we could. Dap, Victor and I show up to this strange hotel in Midtown Manhattan. I hate Midtown. It terrifies me. It reeks of money. I had a pretty white-devil job, though at a firm ran and operated by Indian-Americans and we once almost moved to midtown. I was terrified. It terrifies me. So we show up to this place and the guy throwing it immediately makes a joke about how, “hah”, the “Chocolate Rain” guy is over there. He wasn’t. I’d talk to that dude if he was. That’s irrelevant.
So we’re at this show for some hurt dude thrown by his boy that loves how “viral” we are. THEN WE PLAYED A SHOW TO A ROOM OF STRANGE WHITE PEOPLE IN “MODIFIED EUROPEAN COURT ATTIRE”, AS DAP SAYS. IT WAS STRANGE. I FELT LIKE A CLOWN. WHAT THE FUCK. THE DUDE WITH THE BRAIN TUMOR WASN'T EVEN THERE. THE DUDE THAT LOVED OUR PIZZA HUT SONG SO MUCH THAT HIS FRIEND ASKED US IF WE COULD PLAY A BENEFIT FOR HIM. I’D RATHER JUST HAVE KICKED IT WITH DUDE FOR AN HOUR. COME ON!!
Brendan: Your “recession thanksgiving” video feels like proof that it’s hard to make a living as a musician these days. Is Das Racist down with rapping about McDonalds, or are you against corporate sponsorship? Is there a grey area in between?
Victor: Most labor these days seems to basically be “corporate sponsorship” on some level or another. It seems hard to avoid sponsorship that isn’t “corporate” in some way. It’s hard to turn down money but I’m trying not to do anything for money that I’m not comfortable doing. But I guess I’m still trying to figure out what I feel comfortable doing. I know that’s a vague answer but basically I’m trying to err on the side of “keeping it real,” which I understand may very well mean nothing, but which I hope actually means something.
Hima: I will do anything for money I can send back to cousins of mine I’ve never met in India so they could get educated and work for a terrible American corporation too.
Brendan: Just from a quick Youtube search, I’ve seen you screaming a cover of “Sabotage” with your shirts off, and your recent performance at the Whitney featured a 10 year old singing the chorus to “Combination Pizza Hut Taco Bell” while you danced around in powdered wigs. Any plans to further this performance art to Marina Abramovic proportions?
Victor: I just saw the Marina Abramovic thing at the MOMA and it was amazing. I was also really into Tino Seghal’s thing at the Guggenheim a while back and his work in general. We sampled Mai Ueda’s one minute acapella chant “I Don’t Want to Deal with Those Monsters” on our track “I Don’t Want to Deal with Those Monsters” and have been in contact with her to collaborate again, possibly with DJ Spooky. I would really at one point like to build a a working replica of a McDonald’s in an art museum and poach employees from real McDonald’s restaurants to work there and pay them hourly wages proportional to McDonald’s CEO salaries. The menu and prices would be the same but all fair trade ingredients, grass-fed free-range beef, cageless, non-genetically-enhanced chickens and eggs, real cheese, organic potatoes, organic sugar cane juice instead of processed sugar, fresh baked whole grain bread, etc. and all the money made in transactions would go to charity. I got the idea when I was walking around in these giant Richard Serra sculptures with German tourists in cargo shorts and New Balances and soccer moms with their kids and I was like “Yo, I almost feel like I’m at a McDonald’s or something.” And I like the idea of appropriating “art money” and hijacking the power of corporate branding in the name of artistic license for social good. It seems barely legal and pretty expensive would probably work best at some really “exalted” and iconic “real art” type of space but I feel like if I keep talking about it enough someone with money might eventually just fund it. Yeah?
Hima: as a performance artist myself I don’t want to inflate Marina Abromovic’s ego anymore so I have no response to this “question”.
Brendan: Your Greedhead mixtape “Shut Up, Dude” sounds like an album. It’s really good. I notice that repetition is a big theme – from the Pizza Hut/Taco Bell joint back in 2009, to the Billy Joel-sampling “You Oughta Know”, to your “Speaking In Tongues” freestyle, which has a minute and a half of gobbledegook at the end of it. What’s next?! Can the “monosyllabic repetition" dead horse be flogged any further?
Victor: Can the “saying a bunch of words that are different from each other” dead horse be flogged any further? Can the “non-melodic lyrics over low-end and drum-heavy songs in 4/4 time signatures with a snare drum hit on the second and fourth beat of every bar” dead horse be flogged any further? Can the “verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus” dead horse be flogged any further? Can the “love song” dead horse be flogged any further? Can the “guitar” dead horse be flogged any further? Yes. They can and will. I inhale and exhale hella times every day, it doesn’t get old to me except for when I’m yay-ed the fuck out which is rarely now. Music is dead, sound is alive. If Busta Rhymes makes it clap with one hand in the forest, does it make a sound?
Hima: This is a great interview. That said, could the using “gobbledegook” in a “trendy” “band” interview “piece” “dead horse” be “flogged” anymore?
Brendan: Victor, I’ve heard that Swiss Beatz is your favourite producer ever. How do you defend claims that he’s a lacklustre rapper?
Victor: All three of us like Swizz Beatz. I wouldn’t say he’s my favorite producer ever but he’s one of my favorites. And he is an amazing rapper. “Bill Gates / Steve Jobs / iPhones / Microsoft… My new Basquiat /HOV know what that cost.” That’s a banger.
Hima: He’s my favorite producer ever. Don’t get it twisted. Him and Dilla. And big homie El-P. And David Banner and Heatmakerz and Flying Lotus and Switch and Jai Paul and Prince Paul and a lot of people. Don’t get it twisted. And Madlib. And KOUSHIK.
Brendan: I love your lyrics. They’re also hard to find on the internet. What are some of your favourite punchlines from the“Shut Up, Dude” mixtape that people might have missed the first time around?
Victor: “I’m at the Pizza Hut / I’m at the Taco Bell / I’m at the Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell”